Farewell to species (but not yet!)

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Tue Feb 1 10:57:26 CST 2000

Don Colless wrote:

>The only thing that's "broke" in
>the Linnean system - and that might need "fixing" - is that a
>classification MAY not be 100% isomorphic with a cladogram; and
>therefore (horror of horrors) might lead to misleading inferences
>in, say, biogeography.

Along the lines of asking "what's broke", on more than one occasion, I have
heard people forced to deal with something that requires the use of
scientific names utter something to the effect of: "Rassemfrassem
taxonomists always changing the genus and family names! How am I supposed
to do my electronic literature search if I don't know what names to type

Here's something to consider: I submit, given how universal this sense of
frustration is, that this may be one of the prime motivations of the
Anti-Linneans, and/or the basis of their growing support. Simple annoyance
that a person should be required to engage in some actual *research* into
the history and status of a given taxon name in order to retrieve all the
available information. Everybody finds it frustrating (myself included,
admittedly), and the lazy man's solution is to require that all taxon names
are fixed and immutable, which IS part of the "uninomial and rankless"
paradigm that I've heard promoted. At particularly cynical moments, I
suspect it could be the MAIN reason that such classifications have been
proposed in the first place. Spellcheckers have brought about a disdain for
the ability to spell, and search engines have likewise spawned a disdain
for the ability to do a literature search. I realize it might sound a bit
silly, but I think there's more than a grain of truth in it.
        About the only thing that might address this complaint (to the
satisfaction of those complaining) without requiring that the Linnean
scheme be discarded is if someone develops a *single* online database where
one enters ANY taxon name in existence and the entire history of that name
- all its alternative expressions, all its synonyms, etc. - appear in an
instant. Yes, it would have to be ALL taxon names in one database, because
a great many of the people who would need to use it would have no idea
where to start looking - "What the heck is _Boisea trivittata_? A plant? A
fish? Old World? New World? Extinct?". I think that would go a long way to
quieting the attacks, though obviously not likely to happen in our
lifetimes (especially since only trained taxonomists are capable of
compiling catalogs of this type, and the majority of taxa have no such
catalogs already available). I expect the Anti-Linneans to get their way
long before that ever happens. They're getting tenure, after all. ;-)

Just a thought,

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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